Thursday, March 02, 2006

Invisible Children



You think that you know, but you have no idea. You may have heard here or there that there is fighting in Sudan and Uganda. From time to time, it pops up in the news, then fades away. The situation is far worse than you can imagine.

The region has been in turmoil due to a nearly 20 year civil war between the Ugandan government and a rebel group called the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) headed by Joseph Kony. In around 1995, as popular support began to wane for the LRA, they began abducting children en masse, conscripting them as soldiers and conditioning them with ultra-violent indoctrination. In response, the Ugandan government urged "hundreds of thousands of rural residents to relocate to Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps, where many [became] reliant on World Food Programme handouts." (Invisible Children). According to this report (warning: PDF link), up to 90% of the entire population of Gulu, a district in northern Uganda, currently live in these camps.

Over the course of the following years, the children, fearing for their lives, "[fled] from the unprotected IDP camps and villages for towns with Army detachments. [...] Children in particular [flocked] to town centers at night to escape abduction. They are dubbed 'Night Commuters'." (again, Invisible Children). Walking up to 10 kilometers one way they take refuge in the relative safety in numbers, sleeping in bus stations, gymnasiums and on the verandas of good Samaritans. According to Invisible Children, an estimated 15,000 children make this trip to Gulu alone.

After visiting northern Uganda in 2003, United Nations Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland concluded that "Northern Uganda must be one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world."

In two recent blog posts on CNN.com, Jeff Koinange describes what he encountered while in Gulu:
I've covered horror stories across the African continent, and every time, I tell myself I've seen it all. But nothing could have prepared me for the scenes I witnessed in the tiny dusty town of Gulu in northern Uganda.

[...]

Those who are kidnapped by Kony's army live a life of horror. While reporting this story, we met Alice, a 19-year-old girl who recently managed to escape after eight years in captivity. She told me blood chilling stories of events no child deserves to witness. She spoke of how the group she was in was made to kill a child who tried to escape by biting him to death, of how she was made to cut up and cook the body of a village chief killed by the rebels and forced to eat the meat from his body.
The atrocities occurring in Uganda are truly horrifying. Don't take my word for it. Please take some time to acquaint yourself with what's happening in Uganda. Visit Invisible Children (they have some novel campaigns), UNICEF, World Vision, Amnesty International, Oxfam, and more. If you hear about a screening of Invisible Children, go see it. Better yet, buy the DVD. Then tell your friends. Write your government. Donate (make sure to specify that your donation is for the "Night Commuters" of Gulu). Jeff Koinange puts it well:
Tell them of this horror that exists in our time and make some noise. Lots of noise. That's the only way to keep stories like this on the "front burner." Otherwise, people quickly forget once the "kids" are off the evening news.

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